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Cowon has always been a personal favorite, and not without ample reason. To begin with, I don’t see Cowon cowing down to the competition by subscribing to the whole "use only proonprietary software" crap! If there’s any product out there that's capable of breaking the iPod monopoly, I'd say it's Cowon. Even though the visibility is low, it's still likely to shine amidst it all.
The A3 is only an extension of the A2 where features are concerned, and fortunately, Cowon has made sure the player only adds to the likeable features of its predecessor. While we got a 30GB player for review, be aware that you can also get a 60GB A3.
The player shares much of its looks with the A2, but I had hoped the bulk would have been reduced. It's heavy, but I haven’t come across any PVP (Portable Video Player) that isn’t. As in the A2, the screen size is a good 4 inches, and although it’s quite reflective, I will trust you guys to not use it to watch movies on the road. If you're curious, the 30GB player weighs around 280g!
I'd have liked to see the end of the weird joystick, but that was not to be. It doesn’t feel right, let alone work right. To begin with, it hurts your thumb. Sadly, using it is the only way you can navigate. And every time you try to hold it down to make a selection, it will more often than not jump icons – or worse still, make a wrong selection. Avoid fiddling with the player when drunk!
The screen supports 16 million colors with a pixel pitch of 0.108mm. Unlike most PVPs, the A3 offers a simple drag and drop interface. Natively, the player supports almost every format except MOV. The list includes AVI, WMV, ASF, MP4, MATROSKA (MKV), OGM, MPG/MPEG, VOB, DAT and MTV. This pretty much covers everything, for whatever is left out; there's a conversion software bundled with the player.
The player supports HD playback of a resolution up to 1280 x 720 pixels without any decoding. The catch is that only the FAT32 file system is supported, which makes transferring movies over 4GB (most HD movies exceed that) impossible. We checked with Cowon, and we're sorry to say there's no solution to this problem yet.
The Cowon A3 plays video better than most video players can, and without conversion too. The blacks were better accentuated than in the Creative Vision:W. Being a video player, the A3 also comes with a host of features like pan and scan that allows you to zoom into the movie and pan to the portion you wish to see. Aspect ratio can be changed on the fly without accessing setup from the menu. You can even save a snapshot of your favorite scene.
The music player is one of the best in the business. Except DRM-protected WMA files, it can take on anything, even FLAC. It supports MP3/2/1, WMA, ASF, FLAC, OGG, M4A, MATROSKA (MKA), AC3, TTA, APE, MPC, WV and WAV. Another good thing is that the files are arranged into folders, so you can arrange your music the way you want, just as on the computer.
You can choose from a host of EQ presets, and a 10-band manual is also at your service. The jetEffect package includes BBE, Mach3Bass, MP3 Enhance, 3D Surround, but I'd suggest that you stay away from all this. Not because they suck, but you can't possibly use jetEffect and ignore the over-amplification.
The earphones could have been better, but they aren’t too bad either. Honestly I liked the music player, but then I tested the A3 with my Sennheiser HD415!!
The sound is very well-balanced, which means all the frequencies are leveled properly. Those looking to turn deaf can rejoice in the knowledge that cranking up the volume can get you there in just a few months – it’s really loud. The bass is very unobtrusive (for a lack of a better word), and the trebles well restrained, but clear nevertheless.
Overall, this is a great-sounding music player, if you manage to ditch those earphones. The player also comes with an FM radio that's audible via the speakers. You can save up to 20 frequencies. The reception was good, even indoors.
The player can be used for storing and viewing pictures. It supports JPG, GIF, PNG, TIF, BMP and RAW. Like the A2, the A3 too comes with a CSD viewer that allows users to view not only MS Word files, but also PowerPoint documents and other image files. It also supports TXT files. The nice screen really makes reading e-books a treat.
What sets the player apart is the fact that you can record both video and audio from a television set. Using the S-video (included with the package) you can record videos without losing much depth. The 3.5mm composite line-in can record audio in FLAC, so you can connect a CD player or a Walkman and record content without losing too much information. I tried it, and it rocks!
A unique feature of the A3 is the USB host that allows you to connect any other media device to the player via the USB host cable, and transfer data directly. You can copy songs, pictures, and video. It’s fast, and unlike the A2, quite reliable as well.The Verdict
The battery life is claimed to be around 7 hours for continuous video playback. With the A2 I had been able to watch three movies in succession, but the A3 sadly disappointed – it couldn’t get beyond the first half of the second movie. (Incidentally, the movies were Sweeney Todd and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.) Battery life naturally improved when it came to music playback, but even this wasn't quite satisfactory.
While charging, the battery heats up the player uncomfortably. This makes charge-and-watch a bit of a turn-off. As for the price, it costs Rs 25,000 with bill and warranty. Sadly, no carry case is bundled this time, so you'll have to shell out another Rs 1,500 for a leather case, which is important if you want to prop up the player on an even surface while watching movies.
So is the A3 worth looking at? Well, if you consider the drag-and-drop options, native support for a host of video and music formats, and the video recording facility, the price seems quite justified. No other player in the market currently offers so much even at this price. That's just crazy, isn't it!!